Unlike a year ago, when the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team was left out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1971, nerves were not an issue when this year's 18-team field was unveiled Sunday night.
“We had one year away from it, and obviously, it was a long year and a disappointing situation that we didn’t get there last year,” Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said. “But as I said last year, there was a criteria put together, and we didn’t meet that criteria, and we had every opportunity to do our job and earn our way into the tournament, and we didn’t.
"After Saturday’s [13-10 loss to Loyola], I felt like no matter what had happened Saturday, we had done enough with our body of work to get back into the tournament.”
Pietramala’s confidence was well-founded as the Blue Jays were awarded one of eight crucial at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.
Johns Hopkins (10-5) will travel to Charlottesville, Va., to play eighth-seeded Virginia (10-4) on Sunday at 1 p.m., in a rematch of a March 22 game that the host Cavaliers won, 11-10, in overtime.
Loyola (15-1) was the highest-seeded team from the state of Maryland, earning the No. 3 spot. The Greyhounds, who won the 2012 national championship, will host Albany (11-5) on Saturday at noon at Ridley Athletic Complex.
Maryland (11-3) drew the seventh seed and will host Cornell (11-4) on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
As they do every spring, the Blue Jays gathered to watch as the bracket was announced. And seeing their name paired with the Cavaliers elicited a strong response.
“You could see it was just a genuine reaction, and they were very, very excited,” Pietramala said. “It’s a prideful group, and this is a proud program, and with the exception of our freshmen, we all share the disappointment of last year.
"So the fact that we’ve been able to earn our way back there with, quite frankly, a team that may not be as talented individually, to earn our way back there in a different way, with very much of a team offense, a very different kind of offense, a lot of new faces ... the fact that this group was able to rebound from last year, use that as motivation, but do it in a much different fashion than how we’ve done it in the past, I think, it’s exciting for us now, but also exciting for us in the future of this program.”
Duke (13-3) earned the top seed despite losing to second-seeded Syracuse (11-4) and Loyola in the regular season.
But the reigning national champion Blue Devils, who have captured two of the past four NCAA crowns, had a higher strength of schedule and more wins against opponents in the top 20 in the Rating Percentage Index than the Orange, and a higher RPI and strength of schedule than the Greyhounds.
Loyola coach Charley Toomey, who was a member of the NCAA selection committee until 2012, seemed to understand the seedings.
“I’ve been in that room, and I’ve been on the committee, and I understand how important the RPI and strength of schedule numbers are,” said Toomey, whose team owns the longest active winning streak in Division I at 15 games. “Everything is tied to the RPI, and I think we were a [No.] 4 RPI going in. I didn’t, in my own mind, have us going in as the [No.] 1 seed. I thought it could be anywhere from certainly 1 to 4, depending on the personality of the committee. Were they going to be suggestive? Were they going to be statistical? I think they did a good job. I think they did a fair job seeding the top eight.”
The other three seeded teams are No. 4 Penn, No. 5 Denver and No. 6 Notre Dame.
The Terps will meet the Big Red, who ousted Maryland from the first round of last year’s tournament at Byrd Stadium. While the memory of that loss may still resonate, Terps coach John Tillman said graduation on both sides and former Cornell coach Ben Deluca giving way to interim coach Matt Kerwick has altered the tenor of the upcoming game.
“They’ve obviously done a great job, and we know how talented they are,” Tillman said. “We experienced that last year. I wouldn’t say revenge is necessarily something that we’ll talk a lot about, but I think what we do have is we have an understanding of how good the program is at Cornell. We experienced that firsthand.”